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Battleship Maine explodes in Havana Harbor - February 15, 1898

Posted February 15, 2005 by publisher in Cuba Politics.
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Source unknown

Most US citizens remember the destruction of the US battleship Maine a little over a century ago in Havana harbor as an act of enemy aggression but, could there have been greedy homegrown minds behind the explosion?
On Tuesday February 15, 1898 shortly after 9:40 p.m. the Maine sunk to the bottom of the harbor in the capital of Cuba. Out of a company of 355, 260 including only two officers lost their lives. Great effort and manpower were spent by both Spain and the US trying to determine whether the explosion came from the inside or from the outside. Nevertheless, the action lent a great service to some greedy politicians seeking expansionism, war with Spain, and the annexation of Cuba.
Around 1890 Captain Mahan published a famous book in which sea power was portrayed as the key to greatness, and the US built its first modern battleship while dreams of supremacy ran throughout the country. Theodore Roosevelt (TR) then US Civil Service Commissioner was among many fervent supporters of expansionism. In 1892 TR demanded the annexation of Hawaii and a canal thru Nicaragua. Powerful pressure groups got organized including TR, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (intimate friend of TR), Navy Secretary Ben Tracy, Chief of Naval Intelligence Charles Davis and Mahan. In March 1895 a note from Lodge to Roosevelt: From the Rio Grande to the Artic Ocean there should be but one flag…when the Nicaragua canal is built, the island of Cuba of almost unbounded fertility will become a necessity. Christmas 1895 saw a conflict between Washington and London over the Venezuela-British Guyana border. TR then President of New York Police wrote to Cabot Lodge: Let the fight come if it must, I don’t care weather our sea-coast cities are bombarded or not…this country needs a war. March 9, 1896 letter from TR to A.T. Cowles: It is very difficult for me not to wish a war with Spain, for such a war will result at once in getting a proper Navy.

Early in 1896 General Fitzhugh Lee, former Governor of Virginia and nephew of Robert E. Lee gets appointed to Consul in Havana. On July 8 (19 month before the explosion) Lee wired Secretary of State Richard Olney a confidential paper urging for US intervention in Cuba. On April 6, 1897 President McKinley names TR Assistant Secretary of the Navy and on June 30 the US adopts plans for a war against Spain. On August 8 Spanish Prime Minister is assassinated. One timely factor in the jingoes’ plans was that the Cuban Rebels were at the point of attaining victory and that a Marti’s style nationalistic government removed from foreign control would be set up. Up to his death in battle on May 19, 1895, Jose Marti had warned of the US threat to the independence and sovereignty of all the people south of the Rio Grande. Another impenetrable barrier was Antonio Maceo second in command of the Cuban Liberation Army. This guerrilla genius would never accept a Cuba controlled by any foreign power. Pass mid afternoon on December 7, 1897 General Maceo fell in battle against a Spanish column that out of nowhere surprised the Cubans at their San Pedro encampment some 15 miles S/W of Havana. Immediately after the death of Maceo tensions between the US and Spain elevated and a propagandistic drive against Spain, orchestrated by several key US newspapers, took over the news. From Havana Lee sent a message about an anti-US conspiracy in Cuba, and the Maine was ordered to Key West. The Maine designed and built as a steel armored cruiser joined the US Fleet in 1895. On April 10, 1897 (four days after TR became Assistant Secretary of the Navy) Charles D. Sigsbee assumed command with a promotion to Captain. On December 23, 1897 (16 days after the death of Maceo and six weeks before the explosion) TR wrote to William Chandler: I earnestly hope that events will so shape themselves that we must interfere some time not in the distant future. Chandler and his brother Lewis were already engaged in illegal gunrunning operations to Cuba.

On January 12, 1898 Lee telegraphed from Havana: mobs led by Spanish officers attacked today four newspapers here advocating autonomy. Meanwhile in the US the Sun reported the continuation of riots for the next four days, which was not true. On January 23, five ships from the North Atlantic Fleet joined the Maine off Key West. Next day the US State Department asked the Spanish Minister if the Maine could go to Havana, purely as a mark of friendship (sacrificial lamb on its way to the altar?). This was the first US warship to visit Cuba in many years and Spain agreed sending its cruiser Vizcaya to New York. On midmorning January 25 the Maine sailed by the Morro Castle in Havana. That evening Captain Sigsbee and Consul Lee took a ferry across the bay to Regla to see the Spanish Toreador Mazzantini. At the arena with the US group was the Spanish commander General Parrado. Exactly three Tuesdays after five bulls were killed in the arena in Regla by the sword, 260 humans would be killed in the waters of Havana by a conspicuous explosion.

The day after the explosion TR, seen a hesitant McKinley who from the beginning had opposed the war, wrote: The President has no more backbone than a chocolate eclair. Next day New York Journal first page: Assistant Secretary of Navy convinced that the explosion was not an accident; Navy officials think that the Maine was destroyed by a Spanish mine; $50,000 Reward for the Detention of the Perpetrator of the Mine Outrage! In early March Navy secretary Long organized the Naval War Board with TR as its Chairman and the US offered to buy Cuba. Captain William T. Sampson headed a US commission to investigate the explosion, which on March 21 reported that, contrary to the Spanish investigation, the cause of the explosion was external. Three days after the report Sampson was promoted to Chief of the North Atlantic Fleet. On April 9, Consul Lee closed his office in Havana turning over all US interest to the English Consul. On April 19, 1988 (the same day and month of the 1961 US debacle at Bay of Pigs in southern Cuba) the US Congress approved a resolution recognizing the right of Cuba to be independent, however, the Cuban Liberation Army was totally ignored.

On April 25, 1898 the US Congress declared war on Spain and on the 27th began the blockade of Cuban ports. Early June, Senator Lodge wrote to TR: Puerto Rico is not forgotten and we mean to have it. The administration is now committed to the large policy that we both desire. In November TR became governor of New York while Senator Albert Beveridge had the arrogant words: American factories are making more than American people can use…the trade of the world must and can be ours, and we shall get it…Great colonies, flying our flag will grow about…American law, American order, American civilization and the American flag will plant itself on shores hitherto. On March 4, 1901 President McKinley was sworn for a second term; his new vice-president was Theodore Roosevelt. Six months later McKinley was assassinated and TR became President. In March 1912 the destroyed Maine was taken six kilometers outside Cuban shores and sunk at a depth of about 1,100 meters. In 1976 US Admiral Hyman G. Rickover conducted a study of the explosion concluding with an internal detonation.

Could the timely explosion of the Maine and the imperial success that followed suggests a plan from the minds of greedy supremacist jingoes? As US Admiral George Belknap said: it was significant that the ship should have blown up in that particular harbor at that particular time.

Ref: Antonio Maceo, by Jose L. Franco, 1989. Cuba, by Hugh Thomas, 1971

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Member Comments

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On February 15, 2005, I-taoist wrote:

Conspiracy theories aside, there is no doubt that the Hearst newspaper empire used the sinking of the Maine as pretext to sell lots of newspapers, inflame American sentiment against Spain, and enable the war.  In our own time we have seen in the Vietnam Tonkin Gulf incident and the now infamous WMD scare, the ability of the government to misinform the country, leading us into costly, miserable wars.  Those who do not study and learn the hard lessons of history are bound to repeat the errors of the past. 

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On February 15, 2005, YoungCuban wrote:

I have a wine bottle from the Maine for sale,asking price is $5000 firm.

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On February 15, 2005, jesusp wrote:

107 years later the U.S. is still attempting to annex Cuba. What else would you call the Bush administration’ “U.S. Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba”?
SHAMEFUL!

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On February 16, 2005, waldo wrote:

COINCIDENCES, RAMDOM CHANCE, ACTS OF GOD OR, IMPERIAL GREED PRETEXES?

After the success of its first Caesars almost two centuries ago, the Empire is always searching for a justification. It needs to justify its dark and impure movements in order to deceive and receive the publicís consent. With the attention of a mathematician, it calculates the balance between losses and benefits. The overriding question is always the same: how to gain the greatest amount of wealth and spill the least volume of national blood?  These transactions have had an unequal history, but they all have never lost the unmistakable seal of blood, destruction and death.

In February 1848, the Mexican-American war of dubious origins ends, moving more than half of the historic Mexican territory to the Empire, which increases its territory by 66%.

In February 1898, almost 30 years after the Cubans began their independence war, the battleship Maine exploded from within while anchored inside Havana harbor. 260 sailors including two officers perished. The Spanish-American war followed.

In May 1915, almost three years after the beginning of the war, the Lusitania transatlantic liner sank when a mysterious submarine torpedoed it. 128 Americans on board lost their lives. The US enters World War I.

In December 1941, after failing to alert the US Navy fleet docked in Hawaii and ignoring intelligence reports that Japan would attack on early December, Pearl Harbor was bombed. 2,300 were killed. The US enters World War II.

Phantom attacks on the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin gave Washington free reign to unleash the full force of the US military in the Viet Nam War.

In September 2001, the twin towers in New York were destroyed and thousands were killed. Were US Intelligence reports ignored and/or was the Defense Department negligent? The war against terror is unleashed; the US bombs and starts a war in Afghanistan. Throughout the end of 2002 and early 2003, the whole world was extensively and continuously bombarded with news about the existence of WMD in Iraq and the Iraqi connection to Afghanistan. The US bombs and occupies Iraq. No WMD ever found, and no connection ever proved.

All justifies and leads to political pretexts for retaliatory wars and huge increases in military budgets. Does it all seem like random chance happenings or do all of the above appear to have a certain recurring note or communality?

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On November 20, 2006, brandon brewer wrote:

I want to know what this is I have plaese send a letter to p.o.box18 and I will send you a picture of it.


p.s. I think it came off the ship?

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On December 12, 2006, Harry L Blocher wrote:

We have a Silverplated type Napkin ring from the US Battleship Marine, that an ancestor in the family had is there you can any information you can give us on this item?

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On December 12, 2006, publisher wrote:

Great question. There is a monument to the ship in Havana but I do not know about any museum. If you search around, maybe you can find a museum that could give you information.

Good luck.

Keep us posted.